A new profession emerges out of the COVID hotbed
The COVID-induced lockdown is gradually giving way to an “unlocking” phase all over the world as people try to resume normal activities. But we are very much aware by now that normal will never be the same again – at least for quite some time. There will be restrictions, precautions, investigations, regulations and massive changes in social behaviour patterns. And all business enterprises – especially those in the service sector – will need to make large-scale infrastructural modifications in compliance with the new regulations to keep customers safe and win back their confidence of resuming pre-COVID transactions.
But who tells them what to do? Government guidelines are naturally too board-based and lack specific instructions – often making them subject to various interpretations. Distancing, partitioning, health and temperature screening, protective gear, sanitising, limiting gatherings – these are the overall directives that authorities are dispensing the world over. But how to go about doing these on ground? Where should they start, and how can businesses optimise their spending on such measures with the best results – especially where a large customer-base is involved?
These are areas which need meticulous pre-planning and expert guidance. But where are these experts? It must be someone with knowledge of the changed regulations, clear understanding of health and sanitation guidelines as well as professional expertise in space design. The fact is, until COVID-19 struck a few months back, there was no such expert anywhere.
Logistics, queuing solutions and space design was traditionally the domain of architects and interior designers. But now several healthcare and public hygiene factors have barged in and the situation demands far more complex and meticulous handling.
Enter the Social Distancing Consultant – an entirely new breed of consultants responding to the need of the hour. As yet, they are mostly professionals so long engaged in different – and somewhat allied – fields where business is now either low or at a standstill. These quick thinkers have made the most of bad times by locating a void where demand for service is insanely high, but supply is virtually non-existent. Social Distancing Consultant are professionals who are advising enterprises on infrastructural amendments to comply with the COVID-19 regulations for distancing and related safety measures.
Expectedly, architects and interior designers are leading the pack; space landscaping is their core skill after all. However, social distancing consultancy is shaping up more like a cottage industry as clients range from the small corner shop to high-value corporate’s – and anyone buccaneering enough to gather the fundamental principles and help clients implement them are jumping onto the bandwagon. And that is good, because the world needs their service, and needs it quick. There is no time to wait for the well-trained and experienced consultant to come along as firms are hastening to resume business.
Clients span across diverse industries. Obviously, the common trait is that they are mainly in the service sector and deal with large-scale people interaction on a regular basis. Eating out being the most basic social instinct, restaurants designers are getting the maximum calls right now – and almost all of them have repositioned their business as Social Distancing Consultants to tide over these lean times.
Anyone would now avoid confined spaces outside home where other people keep coming in regularly. So restaurant services include rebranding, and physical modifications like separation with plexiglass dividers between tables and cash counters, contactless entry and exit points, establishing personal hygiene routine for both patrons and staff, and sanitising procedure each time patrons leave.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities are another big source of demand. The requirements are mostly the same only much more thorough and intense – because they are places where patients of all kinds congregate. Containing spread of infection and keeping healthcare staff safe are to be performed on war-footing. Layering all exposed surfaces with easy-to-clean inert material and high-end germicidal procedures are a must for such clients.
Some distancing consultants are also offering safe work-from-home solutions including installation of workstations. This is a smart move considering work-from-home is poised to be a normal practice in days to come. Vendors who lent out co-working spaces took a hard hit due to the pandemic and are now turning to distancing consultants to regain clients. Apart from usual separation products, re-routing of all passages for one-way traffic, extensive signage and spreading out of workstations are being implemented here.
Airlines were the first to hit dirt when COVID struck and are frantically looking for distancing solutions both at the terminals as well as in air. According to SimpliFlying, an US airlines consultancy firm, every flight has 70 risk points to tackle from check-in to post-landing sanitisation. So their task is well cut-out. Safe handling of passenger documents and luggage is a big issue as well as proximity in air.
Even technology companies are offering distancing solutions. As of now, their offerings include COVID-smart access doors with sensors and person count that can control entry to maintain a maximum permissible number of people at public buildings, repurposing face-recognition software to screen people without face-masks and set off an alert, and queuing estimates to inform expected waiting period. As new needs emerge, we are sure to see more innovative technologies pouring in.
Social Distancing Consultant agree that times being hard and people being panicky, the prime requirement is to return the comfort level to customers. Indeed, all the new measures that are being taken to keep people safe are cumbersome and no amount of acclimatisation can make people like them. Everyone must admit this and try to be as empathetic and creative as possible while designing distancing solutions.
Distancing is something that goes against the normal human instinct of coming close to fellow beings. Any restriction that impedes innate behavioural traits are bound to trigger aversion on the rebound. Hence, we must all depend on voluntary modification of human behaviour – without which no measure is safe enough. The consultants are trying to be as little invasive as possible in their remodelling to gain customer trust. And many of them are also taking on the responsibility of retraining employees for maximum success of the new measures.
Social Distancing Consultancy might be just the pioneer in a spate of new industries that are likely to emerge out of the COVID hotbed. Human endeavour never dies, so why not hope that the “new normal” might just turn out to be a “better normal”?